Jamie Oliver first hit our TV screens in 1999 starring in his cooking series The Naked Chef. Since the show he has constantly been in the limelight. The British chef has now opened numerous restaurants, revolutionised schools dinners in the UK, sold millions of cookery books, appeared in several TV shows and has been at the centre of campaigning for better food education. Now his most recent venture is pushing to see an introduction of a tax on sugary drinks in the UK. Back in October 2015, Oliver provided the Health Committee with evidence as to why a tax should be put in place. On top of this, he has received more than 155,000 signatures on a petition to invoke a sugar tax, leading to a government debate.
When urging ministers to introduce this tax he said: “Who is running the country? Is it the businesses who are profiting from ill-health in our children, or is it us?” So is a tax on sugar the answer to improving the health of our future generations? Nursing in Practice hears what the TV chef has to say about the sugar tax and the role of nurses in child nutrition.
Q)Do you think school nurses should get involved in the nutritional content of school dinners?
A)Thanks to the school food plan, the nutritional content of school food should be pretty good in most schools now.
But if school nurses feel that the food quality in their school isn’t up to standard or if they notice more children than usual complaining or feeling lethargic after lunch for example, then it’s always worth talking to the catering manager.
The best schools work as teams, so it’s important for everyone to discuss any major challenges.
Q)Are you disappointed that the Prime Minister was reported not to back a sugar tax?
A)Well, we’re still waiting to hear whether a sugar tax is a part of the government’s obesity strategy or not, but everyone knows my thoughts on the sugar tax, which are the same as the medical profession – the vast majority of doctors and dentists.
A tax on sugary sweetened drinks isn’t the magic bullet that’s going to solve everything, but it is one very important measure that needs to be taken immediately to start moving the dial when it comes to obesity and diet-related disease.
Q)How serious do you think the ambiguous labelling of sugary foods is in terms of the obesity epidemic?
A)I’ve always thought that the public are very smart and if you give them the right information then they’ll use it wisely.
When you have products that are full of sugar but you wouldn’t expect them to be and the labeling is very small and confusing, then people can easily be eating many teaspoons of sugar over the course of a day without even realising. So it’s an important area that needs addressing, and I certainly think that teaspoons as a measurement on sugary sweetened drinks is a start.
Q)Do you think children are exposed to more sugary foods today then you were in your childhood – can you give any details?
A)Definitely. When I was a kid, things like cake and ice cream and dessert were a treat if you were going out to eat or if it was a birthday or maybe a weekend feast. Today it seems like sugary foods are eaten at every meal plus snacks in between.
It’s always important to note that I’m not against treats or cakes or desserts – some of the most delicious things that you can eat are cakes. But if I’m going to have a cake then I’ll make it myself, I’ll know what’s in it and I’ll always balance it with healthier eating. I won’t have a cake every day or every other day.
Q)What role can nurses play in helping to minimise childhood obesity?
A)I think it’s all about providing information to patients. We’ve seen from our work in the Ministry of Food Centres and also our kitchen garden project that if you teach people the skills of cooking from fresh ingredients and learning where food comes from, you end up with a positive shift in what people are eating.
If nurses can help to give advice of nutrition and cooking with fresh food then that really helps.
Q)Why exactly is children’s nutrition so important to you?
A)We owe it to the next generation to give them the best start in life and that includes feeding them a nutritious diet that will keep them healthy, and also teaching them about food and what it does to their bodies. If we can give kids the information they need at an early age and get them engaged in cooking and eating great food, then we’ve given them an incredible life skill that’s going to see them well throughout their lives.
Interview conducted before the sugar tax was announced.